The backdrop to this campaigning novel is the grim industrial centre of Coketown, with its belching chimneys, purple-dyed river and hordes of downtrodden mill hands. Here headmaster Thomas Gradgrind sternly prepares his pupils for their pre-determined fate as industrial fodder. Facts and figures are all that he will tolerate, because he scorns ‘fancy’ and forbids any use of the imagination. Gradgrind’s own children are brought up on the same bleak doctrine. There will be tragic consequences, both for his submissive daughter Louisa and degenerate son Tom, before their father acknowledges the value of the human heart. Hard Times is Dickens’ shortest novel, yet one of his most politically controversial and hard-hitting.